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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

A Request

Friends, Readers, Lovers of Nonfiction, Lend Me Your Eyes

Your emails have given me a hint that the bias against nonfiction is much more pervasive than I’d ever realized. So I would like all of you to do a bit of investigative journalism. Two of you have said that in libraries you use, new fiction is on display in the front of the library, and new nonfiction in the back. Is that true in your library? Is it true all of the time, some of the time, most of the time? Many people have told me that the vacation break or summer reading lists at their schools and or libraries contain only fiction. Is that true at your school and or library? After you’ve checked these to cases — displays and lists — let us know, is there any other indirect way in which your school or library expresses a preference for one genre over another? 

Now if you are the school librarian and you feel there is a logic, a reason, for why, say, fiction should be featured in displays or reading lists, make that case. There may in fact be a compelling argument — but I would like to have that stated, as a contention, a point of view, so we can discuss it. 

In fact let me start, let’s open up the issues that lurk behind those displays and lists: they reflect two beliefs, 1) kids prefer fiction to nonfiction 2) fiction is "better" as literature, it offers a higher quality of reading experience that can stretch readers.

So, is this true? Do kids prefer fiction? Which kids? What ages? Boys and Girls? Is fiction "better" than nonfiction? How so? In which ways? 

I am not baiting you into an argument — I really think we should air our thoughts on these questions, I’d like to learn from you.

FYI — I won’t be at Midwinter this year, but can someone who does go tell us how the kids’ dicussions at BBYA on Sunday go — always a favorite moment for me. 


  1. Actually, in Harford County, Maryland, all of our children’s booklists have a good quantity of nonfiction on them — plus we have several that are completely nonfiction.
    …………….(new paragraph)……….. And our new children’s nonfiction is displayed in the same place as the new fiction. In one branch they are to the left and right of you as you enter the children’s department. In a smaller branch there is one display case for NEW and one side has fiction and the othr nonfiction………….. We also have slant shelves within the nonfiction area (and the fiction area) where we feature books from nearby shelves that kids will enjoy……….. That being said, it’s the parents who want booklists to help guide them to books their kids will like. and are on their kids’ reading levels. Kids don’t care. ” Is the book interesting?” is their criteria. -wendieO, librarian, writer, mom

  2. Marc Aronson says:


    Very reassuring, I am glad to hear how books are displayed and listed in Harford. Believe me this is one case where I would prefer to be wrong. The parents are whole other side to this that I have to think about. Why would they assume kids would prefer fiction?

  3. Perhaps because when the parents went to school, fiction was emphasis. NF books were well, dull looking, not attractive or visually interesting. When I teach reading methods for secondary students, I take a pile of Jim Giblin’s books & show them, oldest first. The writing has always been first rate but the paper, font, white space, illustrations, etc. become much more attractive as time goes by.

  4. Marc Aronson says:

    interesting, maybe we need a parent-education night, where new kinds of books are book talked to parents — so they get a sense of how the field of kids books is changing.

  5. Becky at Farm School says:

    I love that idea, Marc…..I think perhaps parents might be thinking of the sort of Chilren’s Press/Franklin Watts library titles they recall from having to write school projects. Those and textbooks. ……..Whereas I think that much of the best children’s nonfiction, from the present back to the early 20th century, has been published by trade publishers, written by talented authors and illustrated by gifted artists, to make a truly high quality package. This includes Harper’s I Can Read history and science series. The science books of, say, Millicent Selsam and history books of Edwin Tunis come to mind, too.